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Perception Matters

How many times has it happened that you herd something good about your country from a foreigner? Recently, I went through a training given by an American national who is settled in Bangalore. I had not thought anyone from America would consider settling in India. Over the lunch, the question finally popped out of my mouth – “Why did you settle in India? What’s wrong with America?”. The very next moment I had second thoughts about my question. Should I be asking such intrusive questions? But curiosity got the better of me. And now that I come to think of it, the question was a very valid one. His reply was enlightening. He said that he felt at home here in Bangalore. He found the demographic composition of Bangalore quite similar to that of New York. Both the places have global population, with people from different places coming in search of better opportunity. People don’t originally belong there but they have found their new home in these places. However, there is one difference. Having lived in New York all his life, he still felt stranger at times. People next door hardly bothered about him or how he was doing. In Bangalore, he is a stranger, but people still care about him. People here accept him with open arms.

That’s India. I smiled, and felt proud.

History of accepting people and molding them into our culture. India has had a history of people coming from all over the world. We have had the French, the Portuguese, the British, the Mongols – all coming to India and settling here. The Indian culture has allowed them to fuse their culture into ours and Indianize whatever they brought along with them.

Thoughts like these make me feel great, but only for a moment.

This is only one part of the story. The other part is what all of us see everyday and that is today’s reality. The truth is painful. Do we really respect our country? Are we really proud of being an Indian? I have gravest doubts because the attitude of people suggests otherwise.

One of my college batch mates wrote to me after having recently returned from US. Since I had also visited US at the same time, we happened to strike one of the more obvious topics – cleanliness in India as compared to that in US. She said that we Indians lack etiquette and therefore don’t keep our country clean. My ideas differed. And I proved that using a very simple example. In India, if someone eats a banana, he wont mind throwing the banana peal anywhere on the road. The same person goes to a five star hotel he will look for a dustbin to throw the banana peal. If the same person goes to US he won’t mind eating the banana peal if he doesn’t find a dustbin. This might be a bit of exaggeration, but conveys the message. The person is the same, but his behavior changes with the place he is in. More accurately put his behavior changes with the perception of the place he is in. We don’t consider our country more than a dustbin.

Is our perception of our own country so bad?

I have never seen a French, German, Briton or American bad mouth his country. But I have seen numerous Indians who don’t lose an opportunity to bad mouth about India. I have seen Indians in Europe who don’t want to associate themselves with Indians there. Associating with brown people somehow makes them feel inferior. Some things are beyond my comprehension. The moment we land in America, our accent changes to an awkward sounding American accent. And it remains the same long after we have come back to India. We suddenly start using terms like gas and miles which we never used in our lives, just to let people know that we were privileged enough to visit some greater place than our own country. It’s amazing how fast we pick up something from a new culture and forget what we have learnt all our lives. We lose our identity in no time and feel proud of it.

Back at home, we give special treatment to any white person how visits office. And we personally feel proud and privileged to be in their company. This might sound racist. But let’s admit the truth – we are racist in our thinking if not in our behavior. We create so much hype of racial slur being thrown on an Indian celebrity in a British reality show, but we forget how our own behavior is towards our own people who belong to lower castes, whom we consider inferior to ourselves. And our behavior will be no different for a black from Africa. We don’t like being treated in a particular way, but we don’t mind treating others the same way. Don’t we hold double standards?

We have always been in awe of the white people and their country. I have met people who always wanted to settle abroad, as if our country is just not good enough to deserve them. We put undue importance to going abroad. Some chose to live as a second citizen in another country, rather than put effort to make their own country better. It will not be an exaggeration to say that we suffer from inferiority complex.

But all this can change. What we are is only what we chose to be.

We need to bring in a sense of ownership of our country. And ownership comes from doing something for your country. Most of us complain about what is not right in our country. But hardly any one of us thinks about how to change the existing situation. How many of us think for a moment about what we can do to make our society and country better? How many of us realize that if we don’t do something for our country, then nobody else will.

We need to bring in a sense of pride for our country. Talking about India, Donald Trump said -

“India is the world’s largest oldest continuous civilization. In the last ten thousand years, India has never invaded any other country. India is the world’s largest democracy. India is one of the few countries in the world that gained independence without violence. The art of navigation was born in the river Sind six thousand years ago. Sanskrit is the mother of all the European languages. India was the richest country on earth until seventeenth century when the British invaded it. Chess was invented in India. India invented the number system. Albert Einstein said that we owe a lot to the Indians who taught us how to count without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could be made. Algebra, trigonometry and calculus originated in India. The value of pie was first calculated by Indian mathematician who also explained the concept of what is known as the pythagorean theorem. He discovered it in sixth century, which was long before the European mathematicians did. India is the largest English speaking nation in the world. Plus, 38% of doctors and 12% scientists in United States are of Indian descent. They represent the wealthiest of all ethnic groups in United States as well as globally. Education is stressed and many Indians run large US and global corporations. India itself has become a major economic force on its own once again and deserves our attention not just as a destination point or a piece of history. India is important to our future and as globally aware citizens we need to spend time studying about this fascinating and dynamic country.”

Sixty years after independence, its time for another struggle for independence. This time the struggle is not for independence from the tyranny of any Imperial power, but from our own self demeaning perception. The struggle is against our own self detrimental meaningless inferiority complex. We need to change the perception we hold for ourselves and our country and instill a feeling of honor and pride. If you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will respect you. If you don’t respect your country, nobody else will either.

Perception does matter.

About the Author

EHSAAS is a non profit, nonpartisan organization with focus on spreading awareness and educating the masses.

http://www.ehsaas-india.org

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